Any student who has attended John Brown University can attest to a real and often-ridiculed pressure to get married. Undergraduates jest about “rings by spring” and “MRS degrees,” but where does this pressure originate? There is no explicit encouragement to get married put forward by the university itself. So why do we feel pushed regardless?
One major factor is JBU’s location. Siloam Springs is a town of roughly 15,000 people, which is a rather unremarkable number. However, many students know that what’s very remarkable about Siloam is that there is roughly one church per 300 people in Siloam. Siloam is a highly religious town, overall, with a robust Baptist population, a very marriage-focused tradition. With students dispersing among different churches, these traditions inevitably diffuse back into the university community, influencing the student body.
The traditions students come from have a major effect on the university, overall. David Ruales, a graduate business student from Ecuador, acknowledged a difference in tradition between how he was raised and what he often sees in relationships at John Brown.
“My parents told me to make sure you have a good foundation,” he said. “Marriage doesn’t work without that, but I think the idea at JBU is to build that foundation together. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I know people who are happily married, and I know people whose relationships have ended in divorce. For me, it’s hard to think of marriage.”
The focus given to marriage, even in ridicule, feeds the overall pressure as well. While there is no one going from couple to couple telling them to get married, the jokes about married freshmen and six-month relationships becoming three-month engagements leave marriage at the forefront of our minds. This is a factor that contributes massively to this obsession with marriage that seems to be present on campus.
KaLee Holloway, an early childhood education major, contends that the pressure to get married comes with the transition to adulthood forced by life in college. “It is believed that most people will find their spouse in college, and it has become a trend to get married at a young age,” she says. “Also, there is unintentional pressure from peers. A friend gets engaged and then married, and their friend group feels pressure to do the same. It’s a continuous cycle.”
Holloway’s words speak to a widely-held feeling that perhaps a person is not the best person that they could possibly be without a spouse. This insecurity feels somewhat inevitable, especially when reinforced by happy couples getting engaged and married, all within the student body. There could probably be a debate found on campus on any given day between proponents of Genesis 2:24 (“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh”) and happy singles looking for support from the happily single Paul in 1 Corinthians 7.
For many students, marriage has been held up as the ideal state for their whole life. Because of this, college is a high-stakes time. There is a multitude of eligible singles to be met on any given day, and people tend to couple up at an alarming rate. This atmosphere invites an insecurity tied to one’s singleness and stirs a desire to be in a happy relationship. Kaitlin O’Hara sees this reality daily. She asserts that “It’s a trendy thing. I think there is this idea that if you’re not in a relationship, then you’re incomplete.”
Life proceeds as it always has and will continue to do so, and happiness abounds in singleness or relationship. Relationship status does not define happiness one way or the other. Healthy attitudes and practices are what create and maintain happiness, and these can be maintained in singleness, dating or marriage. A person’s responsibility is to do the best with what they have been given.